- Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities, 1862–2007
Even the most casual sports fan knows the inherent dangers of baseball. The confines of a ballpark cannot insulate players from the realities of life and death. Bean balls, broken bats, and wild throws can injure players, umpires, and spectators. The fans as well as athletes can also suffer from heat strokes, falls, and lightning strikes. Baseball is a dangerous game. Robert M. Gorman and David Weeks’s Death at the Ballpark is a litany of when these injuries, accidents, and other incidents lead to death.
This necrology of baseball includes some macabre, yet fascinating anecdotes. Gorman and Weeks’s exhaustively researched book includes the familiar, such as the mysterious death of Jim Creighton, one of baseball’s early stars and one of the game’s earliest fatalities. During an October 14, 1862, game between the Brooklyn Excelsiors and Unions of Morrisania, Creighton, who probably suffered from an inguinal hernia, collapsed after an at-bat, dying on October 18. Death at the Ballpark also recounts less infamous deaths. These tales from the baseball crypt are often violent, grisly, and downright bizarre, which makes for a fascinating read. The book recounts the reckless act of Art Shires, a first baseman for the White Sox. On May 30, 1928, while playing for [End Page 198] the Waco Cubs of the Class A Texas League, Shires threw a ball into the grandstand, injuring spectator Walter Lawson, perhaps contributing to his death.
Gorman and Weeks, librarians at Winthrop University’s Dacus Library, divide their book into sections. They examined players, field personnel, and fans. Each chapter is then dedicated to a particular cause of death. Within each chapter, fatalities are grouped into major leagues, African American baseball, minor leagues, and amateurs. Then each death is listed chronologically. Many entries are only snippets, often due to a lack of reliable information. The authors separate African American deaths into a unique category due to “the historical interest in the game as played in a segregated America.” But this separation is uncomfortable, as it risks perpetuating the divide between black and white baseball and devaluing the contributions and importance of black baseball.
Death at the Ballpark is a fantastic resource for any baseball researcher wanting more information about a player or fan who met an untimely demise. It includes an array of interesting images and photographs as well as easy-to-use appendices listing every entry in chronological order, unconfirmed fatalities, and deaths that did not fit into their particular categories. Despite the exhaustively researched catalog of death, Gorman and Weeks draw very few conclusions. Their analysis features a thorough examination of equipment, particularly aluminum bats and batting helmets, but the authors miss opportunities to discuss the relationship between death and rule changes or cultural issues outside of baseball.
While the book lacks a finale that could define the significance of the study, Death at the Ballpark examines an overlooked and grisly aspect of baseball history, and its inventory of mortality might provide a springboard for discussions about changing attitudes towards death, public health issues, violence outside the ballpark, and social reforms.